Friday, September 6, 2013

I Felt Like Dancing, After Many Many Years...Like I Did When I Was Small ...!

This is a beautiful picture of Stuart Freedman.   Thank you!

I was very very small when I first saw this type of dance drama...'Yakshagaana' in our small village where I lived with my paternal grandmother.  Our house was at the end of a street and then there was an open area where four roads joined together.  We used to have all  dramas, concerts and Yakshagaana often, conducted on the road by local people, beneath a pandal.  Yakshagaana, a folk dance drama with exotic costumes, mostly  had a story taken from our epics, Mahabharata or Ramayana.  It started in the late evening and went on till the next morning.  People used to sit on the ground and watch.  This must be in the late 1950's! I used to mimic their singing and dancing in the morning.  Their dancing was just rotating their palms and fingers and walking like a dancer, around the stage, making sounds loudly in between.  The gaayaks used to sing loudly with the rhythmic sounds from mridanga and thavil type instruments in the background (It resembled the sounds of  'chenda' vaadhyam from Kerala, but a bit different, I came to understand later)!   I must have been 5-8 years old.  The plays used to be in Kannada and Tulu too, (which is spoken in parts of Mangalore, Karnataka). It is said that most of our classics/epics are in Sanskrit.  Ordinary people couldn't follow the language.  So the simplified, local language version of stories based on the epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana were staged in the yakshagaana/kathakali/Therukkooththu (Tamil)  form. 

A couple of days back, I went to Kalakshetra Foundation, an Art School, in Chennai.  They hold 'Utasavams' of art forms like Kathakali, Kuchipudi dance etc. every year. They don't charge anything, too, great! Artists from different schools come here and perform for 3,5,7 days etc.  This time I went to 'Kathakali' utsavam.  Kathakali dance form is from Kerala and so the artists came from Kerala and the language of the story was Malayalam.  My relative who is from Kerala said that I won't be able to understand the language and their expressions and so won't enjoy! I was just curious.  The artists were from Kerala Kalamandalam, a famous Kathakali school.  This link says more about this dance form here. It started at 6 p.m., at which time it had to start! The medium sized auditorium was full, except for a few seats.

The story was about the Pandava's vanvas...the 13 year vanvas (The Kaurava raja Duryadhana had asked the Pandavas to stay out of their kingdom for 13 years.  Read the story here, please).  This story happened in the last year of the vanvas period and the Padavas were in Virata kingdom, in different forms of disguises.  Somehow Duryodhana comes to know of this and just to pick a war, stole some cows from the Virata kingdom Raja, Uttaran. The scene was: The Raja was relaxing with his two wives.  The women characters are also done by men.  Kathakali artists are always men! Then the news of the Kauravas stealing the cows, comes.  No, I will leave the story here...

The women characters' could be recognised as women from their top knot (Kondai) on their heads and cloth breasts (!) which were shown outside...funny! The male characters had long steel nails in their left hand fingers...all of them (except the sages!)! The emotions/actions, were mostly expressed with hands, fingers and EYES! You can see the finger nails in the photos below! When they were dancing, sometimes even while standing, their feet were not flat.  They were standing on the outer sides of their feet...the big toe was often curled.  I noticed nearly all the feet like this! And while sitting, they were holding the ends of anga vastra (the narrow long cloth around their necks) which had flower-like things at the ends,  in both their hands like bouquets! I noticed one more thing, the ghungroos were tied not near the ankles like our other dance forms, but in between knees and ankles!

As soon as we entered the auditorium, we were given a sheet with the story of the day's drama...scene by scene.  Still, it was not very easy to follow the drama.  Two men were singing in Malayalam, the story, at a corner of the stage.  Their voices were good! One was singing and the other was repeating.  Both of them had Ghanta (A round bronze plate played with a stick) and Jalra (two round brass plates, hit in a rhythmic style).  The music was the traditional Kerala vaadhyam, Chenda.  It is very loud.  I sort of, like it, though! I thought of leaving after some 45 mts.since I was not able to follow the story.  Then I noticed the monitors on two sides of the stage, where they were showing the story, nearly verbatically.  I started reading and then viewing the dance.  Since we know the story of Brihannala (Arjuna acts as a eunuch, in disguise) I got interested and started noticing how they were enacting the story.  Some characters were funny, like Kripacharya character jumping like a monkey, Dhronacharya was like a doll....  Duryodhana had a small white ball on his nose, don't know why.  I think the stage was a bit small for staging a battle scene.  Still it was good.  The abhinaya by the artists were very good.  The audience sat till the end of the drama.  Very good, appreciative audience.

Kerala Kalamandalam artist! Click on the picture to view in detail. Notice the steel nails in his left hand fingers!
The first picture was from Stuart Freedman and you can see more beautiful Kathakali pictures from him, HERE!

I took this picture at the auditorium.  You can notice the atmosphere, that is all.  The picture is not clear, sorry.

Have look at this 'you tube' clip of Kathakali dance form.  The play I attended was titled 'Uttara Swayamvaram'.  Here, the title is the same, but the artists are different, I think.  It is a small clip.


I came home and  enacted the dance, walking in a circular form, rotating my palms up and down,  to my son...I wanted to do it very badly! Childhood memories!



Rasam said...

Therukootu has stopped in all major cities.. there was this famous thing called 'arayar sevai' in many perumal temples, which has died without a trace. We can still see nagesh and others perform this feat in films. aadi koozh and other such functions at temples used to have katha kaalaschebam and devotional or carnatic music.. krishna jayanthi will have 'uri adithal'. Everything has changed now a days.. when I recently went to a temple during the holy aadi month, they had arranged for some orchestra.. and they were singing latest cine hits.. what has god got to do with these.. and top of it, there was no concentration and peace of mind which is the main reason for our temple visits.. Good to hear at least some orgs take effort to revive the good culture..

Anu said...

I love dancing too. Infact I just finished tapping my toes to a hindi song :)
I haven't seen a therukoothu or kathakali as a live performance. But, for sure I'd love them! I like Kathakali movements too.

Anonymous said...

Iam a "bathroom dancer" :)


SG said...

Thanks for the nice narration. I glad you enjoyed the evening.

Usha Pisharody said...

We have our annual temple festivals, and one of the nights is set aside for a Kathakali performance! Sometimes it goes on all night! Wonderful it really is to be part of that sort of real down to earth kind of performance!
Loved your description - more so that you wanted to dance :) And did!

Destination Infinity said...

Dakshina Chitra is another place where they conduct traditional dancing. Somehow, I have never been impressed with traditional dancing, yet. Maybe sometime in the future?

Destination Infinity

Sandhya said...

RASAM: Yes, Therukkooththu is gone. This is the reason I was astonished to see the Kathakali prog. had full audience and appreciative audience. Yes, this is not loud like therukkooththu, still, people came to watch mythological stories! Film 'Navaraaththiri's therukkooththu scene is famous...I love to watch it even now!

I hate to hear loud music in the morning from amman temples which play LR Eashwari's loud music repeatedly. Some of her songs are good, I know. But mostly they are too loud. I hear one song 'ayyo ayyo aiyappa'...disgusting.

Yes, all temples keep light music prog. and sing item number songs. The audience will have drunken dancers too.

Kalakshetra is entirely different. It is not commercialised yet. Clean shows of pure art. They have their own appreciative audience. I enjoyed the ambience more than the programme.

Even the Kathakali dancers didn't hang their banner in the background. Pure art minded people.

ANU: Kalakshetra holds festivals of music and dance often, not filmi ones! Carnatic and Hindustani music festivals also are shown here.

Kathakali has chenda music which I love! Attend and enjoy ones atleast, Anu! We should know what these arts are!

ASHOK: Good!!!

SG: Thank you, SG! Lot of work goes into this art. We won't see them for long, I think!

USHA PISHARODY: We have got too much distractions now, Usha. In those days, we didn't have lot of Cinema theatres or TV was not known. So these arts got prominence and even we, as children enjoyed. I remembered those days and enjoyed this prog. because of that.

I still remember a 5 year old me dancing! Others also have quoted my dancing laughingly, later on, many times!

DESTINATION INFINITY: Yes, Dakshina Chitra conducts art festivals. But Kalakshetra is unique. Whatever they do, they do with class. We can enjoy once in a while, D.I.

Rahul Bhatia said...

These dances and music are a soul stirring experience!

Rama Ananth said...

It is nice of you to give us a detailed description of this dance. It is good to know that these shows are free. An interesting way to spend the evening and also learn a few things.

Krishna/കൃഷ്ണ said...

interesting post...


Sandhya said...

RAHUL BHATIA: Yes, Rahulji! This art is surviving without the influence of films and I saw many youngsters watching this programme, which was a surprise for me!

RAMA ANANTH: The auditorium was not air conditioned. Still people never left it in the middle of the prog. It was quite airy!

KRISHNA: Thank you!

Sai Charan said...

Very nice and interesting description, though I have known Kathakali as a traditional form of dance, through this post, I've learned further details on how it is done :)

Thank you for sharing your experiences - both childhood and the recent utsavam you attended! :)

Sandhyaji, you should re-live your childhood memories and bring out the talent in you by joining a dance class and enjoy practising under the guidance of a professional teacher, I bet you'll love it!! :)

Take care,
Cheers, Sai :)

Renu said...

Though I cant understand the language but i also love watching classic dances..its a treat to see..

Sandhya said...

SAI CHARAN: Thank you Sai, for boosting my ego! I still enjoy these dances and music, that itself is god's gift, I feel.

RENU: Since we know our epics, we could read in the monitor, the story and enjoy.

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